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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CIS: Back in U.S.S.R.

The Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, marked its fifth anniversary this year. But nobody, other than the new Russian CIS minister, Aman Tuleyev, remarked on the fact that the commonwealth is, if not in a crisis, then hardly in a healthy state of interdependence.

If the CIS cannot be considered a single territory, it is at least a military and political unity that is held together by the Russian Federal Border Service, which has remained present on almost all the former Soviet borders, and the Defense Ministry, which also has either military bases or units stationed in every state.

Most of the agreements that have been signed among the CIS heads of state over the past five years either are ineffective or have been forgotten. The crisis in relations began at the very moment when Russia gave up its efforts to preserve a ruble-based common market. Each of the former Soviet republics began to seek ways of structuring its economy by either trying to attract international financial organizations or maintaining an authoritarian political regime with Soviet-style planning.

But however the former Soviet economies have developed, Moscow has been able to maintain the loyalty of the new CIS countries by supporting many of its former communist leaders, who know what is meant by the "center." In countries where communist bosses could not hold on to power, they were replaced by sovkhov, or state collective farm directors, as in the case of Tajikistan or Belarus, or by intellectuals who entered politics, as in the case of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

Naturally, the five-year existence of the commonwealth cannot be analyzed in a single article. I will therefore limit myself to the problems with which I am very familiar -- the observance of human rights and, more narrowly, freedom of speech.

Human rights are not part of the internal policies of CIS states unless the problems touch on, for example, the Russian population in Kazakhstan or the Crimea. The arrest and trial of the Russian journalist Boris Suprunyuk, for instance, for his journalistic activities in Kazakhstan was met with indignation by the Russian State Duma. Suprunyuk has called for the reunification of Kazakhstan with the Russian Federation along nationalist socialist lines.

Of course, Suprunyuk has every right to express his views, just as the hundreds of thousands of Tajik, Armenian, Georgian and Chechen refugees who are hiding in Russia have a right to express theirs. The majority of these people have no rights, especially refugee rights, since they are not officially recognized as such. I know scores of Tajik refugee families in Moscow whose children have not attended school for up to four years. They are not accepted in school because they are unregistered refugees, and no one is prepared to register them.

Tajiks, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, in short, all those whose external appearance differs from Slavs, automatically attract the attention of the Russian militsia, or police force. These are people who see newspaper articles and television reports on the violation of the rights of Russians in the CIS. And one out of every four militsia officers becomes an "avenger of the people:" He is ready to have every "person of Caucasus nationality" answer for those Russians who are "offended" in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

What is happening today in Russia and the CIS is the consequence of the "international" policies of the Soviet Communist Party. Many recall how not long ago, there were special privileges for the natsmenov, or national minorities who studied in Moscow universities. But such privileges came with a price: The children of high-level nomenklatura officials in the former Soviet republics practically did not know their mother tongues or cultures. They became half Russian, but they were not Russians.

The CIS is not a government; it is an atrophied U.S.S.R. that has managed to keep general borders, with its guards, as well as its "center" -- Moscow. Recalcitrant Ukraine is cowed by the fear that Sevastopol will always remain a Russian city, and Georgians fear their borders with Turkey could be closed off if Tbilisi stopped allowing Russian military bases in Georgia. Russian generals and diplomats argue that if the Tajik-Afghan border were not protected by General Andrei Nikolayev's border troops, then the Islamic fundamentalists would soon appear on the outskirts of Moscow. No one has explained, however, how these fundamentalists would make it to the Kremlin.

But the CIS is held together not only by fear: The main principle of maintaining a "single family of brotherly peoples" remains the old practice of leading a propaganda war. The Russia news media, both official and the so-called independent press and television, play a large role, especially in matters that concern Russia's geopolitical interests.

What is occurring today on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States is a continuation of the old nationalities policies of the Soviet Communist Party. The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurad Niyazov, might stifle the press, but this is unimportant so long as he continues to get advice from the Kremlin on the Afghan problem.

The Soviet Union lives to this day. It changed when it lost the Baltic countries. It is sick from an anti-Islamic mood in Central Asia and an anti-Russian one in the Caucasus. It is seriously ill from financial dystrophy and wounded by a racist pathology. But it will preserve itself, so long as there is a Russian army and former party leaders in power. There will never be another U.S.S.R., but there are many who would very much like to see it come back.

Oleg Pamfilov is deputy editor of the magazine Tsentralnaya Aziya. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.